You know what really sucks? Low back pain.
And the sad truth about low back pain is that none of us are safe. Okay, that’s probably a bit dramatic, but it’s true. I did some research to find the facts, and then I fact-checked the facts.
Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide (1).
As many as 80% of us will experience low back pain (2).
Most cases of low back pain are chronic and/or recurring.
The two biggest risk factors for low back pain are a previous history of low back pain and fearfulness of future low back pain.
I hope those statements serve to illustrate that this topic is, at the very least, relevant to most of us. It is absolutely relevant to me. I’ve experienced low back pain intermittently in the past, starting around the age of 20, and I realize the physical and mental toll it can have.
There’s something different about low back pain, or really any pain relating to the spine, that makes it a scarier beast than most. You cannot see your low back. I mean literally with your eyes, you cannot see it during your day-to-day activities. And if Alfred Hitchcock taught us anything, it’s that the monster you can’t see is often the most frightening. It literally feels like something is attacking you; something you can’t see or understand or run from.
Again, dramatic but true.
The psychological warfare embedded within low back pain is fascinating. It’s something that as a Physical Therapist, I speak with clients about daily. This article is not meant to diagnose causes for or to implement any specific strategies for others’ low back pain. However, I thought it would be relevant to share what I do to keep low back pain away.
These are 3 Exercises I’ve been performing as a warm-up for my time in the gym to mobilize what should be mobile and coordinate what should be coordinated.
1.) Quadratus Lumborum Stretch
Holy syllables. Long story short, the QL is a muscle that runs from the bulky portion of the hip bone and attaches both to the vertebrae of the low back and lowest rib. I’ve lavishly illustrated it here with a black line.
The QL gets irritated with prolonged hip hiking. Examples of this might be lounging on that same side of the couch time after time, constantly sleeping on one side, or even just prolonged sitting. It can be painful to touch and refer pain to the “low-low” back and butt. There are various ways to stretch it, but here are two angles of my favorite Right QL stretch.
2.) Foam Rolling to the Thoracic Spine (Mid-back)
The foam roll is an awesome tool, but in the case of low back pain, it’s very easy to use incorrectly. I see tons of folks at the gym put that sucker right under their low back, and go to town. That’s a one-way ticket to Wasted Time Blvd. Your low back has a naturally lordotic curve, meaning that it should be rounded toward your belly button, and in most cases (due to prolonged sitting) it’s excessively rounded in this direction. Insert the foam roll there, and we only push ourselves further into that dysfunction.
My advice, use the foam roll under the mid-back. Those of us who sit frequently, sleep in a curled-up position, or breathe air have a good shot at having an excessively “hunched” mid-back. The foam roll is great for this area because here, it pushes us further toward normality. And typically when one curve is happy, the other curves tend to be happy too.
Things to notice here:
The foam roll never goes below nipple-line
Even though I’m supporting my head, I never perform a “crunch”
I allow my back to “melt” over the foam roll – not fighting it
3.) Arms-Up Frog Bridge
I could discuss dozens of variations regarding the bridge exercise, but this is just one variation, and it’s the one I’m using currently. I care next to nothing about using it to “strengthen” my glutes. However, I do care if I’m able to stabilize my hips, keep good rhythm, breathe normally, maintain a little contraction in my abs, and a whole lot of other stuff that sounds pedantic but is both the bread and butter.
Things to notice here:
Low back doesn’t arch (because I keep the abs tight)
Feet stay “facing one another” slightly
2 seconds up – 2 seconds down
Feel the contraction in the glutes; not the hamstrings or low back
There you have it. Again, this is merely the maintenance program I’m using right now to keep low back pain away.
If creating programs like these as a means to stay pain-free while at work, driving, or performing physical activity is something you’d like to do, click this LINK to learn more about what I can provide. At the end of the day, everyone is different with various sets of circumstances, and I think I can help. It literally is my job.
Also, I’ve expanded my scope to include “In-House Consults” for clients around the Evansville area. To inquire for more information about the services I provide and how I can help you, contact me by tapping here.
If you’d like to support this blog and the coffee shop addict writing it, the best thing you can do is spread the word about what I’m doing both socially and vocally.
Thanks for reading.
1. Hartvigsen J, Hancock MJ, Kongsted A, Louw Q. What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention. The Lancet. 2018;391(10137):2356-2367.
2. Andersson GB. Epidemiological features of chronic low-back pain. The Lancet. 1999;354(9178):581-585.